Center for Advancing Teaching Excellence: Graduate Student Spotlight | Alex Scott
Alex Scott is a third-year doctoral student in the School of Journalism and Media and the Assistant Instructor for Intermediate Photographic Communication (J311D). He previously taught at the International Center of Photography and the University of Missouri-Columbia.
On adapting to the online-only environment:
There are so many aspects of photography and visual storytelling that have traditionally relied on an in-person and hands-on approach. Looking back on previous classes it’s funny to realize what we took for granted in the traditional setting, especially learning to see and understand the qualities of light, engaging with the technology of digital photography, and even the ease of facilitating group critiques.
I knew that I had to approach the class with an overarching flexibility in the subject matter that the visual storytellers could pursue safely as well as refining assignments that have traditionally relied on specific technology and gear. But as the semester started, I quickly discovered that this flexibility and adaptability would need to be built into the assignments themselves so that each student could progress and develop regardless of their individual situation. This turned into quite a positive experience from my point of view and I hope the students share that sentiment.
On the heart of the matter:
The conditions of this semester gave us the opportunity to really expose the heart of every successful visual storytelling endeavor: intentionality and visual problem solving. What are you trying to express and how can you convey it effectively through sophisticated form? Since we were working within the documentary and photojournalistic traditions, each student had to explore and express the news value and documentary value of the spaces and people available to them while adhering to traditional ethical standards. As you can imagine this took immense amounts of creativity, but the students produced strong work on the two most pressing issues of our time, COVID-19 and racial justice in America. The focus on visual problem solving allowed us to push the boundaries a bit and take a conceptual approach to many topics.
On the biggest surprise of the semester:
Even though I knew it was coming, I was still most surprised by the “digital barrier” and how some personal connection and community formation is lost through remote learning. But I feel that this is a process and even an opportunity to develop new approaches that can recreate the best parts of in-person teaching while capitalizing on the inclusive affordances of remote learning. Even at its most challenging moments, a digital room full of students analyzing the functions, aesthetics and meanings of photography is a remarkable experience.